Petraeus' approach to counterinsurgency is a cure worse than the disease

According to this article by Tom Hayden in The Nation, the U.S. occupying forces are now relying heavily on Iraqi militias (technically part of the regular army but pretty much independent of its chain of command) to fight the insurgents. It’s a version of the “Kit Carson Scouts:” Indians recruited by the U.S. to fight the Navajos and Utes. Many academics are actively defending this practice as the only way to win. But, if you look at it closely, it’s much like our support of the “death squads” in El Salvador, and in Vietnam.

Sometimes this kind of thing works, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, it is never a thing worth doing. Even if we disregard basic moral objections – and there is no reason why we should – the practical results are undesirable. Such militias in practice operate outside the laws of war even to the extent the government observes them in such a situation. In many cases, they kill prisoners, they kill noncombatants, they torture, they become indistinguishable from the insurgents in their acts of terror. It only compounds the inevitable misery and destruction of war, and sows the seeds of bitter resentment towards the conquerors that may endure for generations.

Which is what is happening in Iraq.

Worse, these tactics are entirely counterproductive in terms of the goal of creating a stable and united Iraqi state and society – assuming that really is our government’s goal here.

Maybe this really is “a war we just might win,” but we won’t win anything but a Pyrrhic victory this way. When Petraeus comes to Congress to testify, somebody needs to tell him to completely rethink his approach.

According to what I’m reading, the Good General, the Commander of Candor, has agreed to give an hour-long exclusive interview with Fox Gnaws. At last, we will have an opportunity for a fair and balanced approach, with hard-hitting, probing questions.

“General, are the Democrat Party traitorous swine who hate our troops, or merely a bunch of lilly-livered pussies?”

Is there a “clean” way to do this thing?

I mean this is literally the guy who wrote the book on CI. Who am I to cite against him? This guy?

From what I’ve read, his stuff is in line with the other experts.

Small Wars Center of Excellence

There’re very, very many things about war that’re very, very objectionable morally.

It seems that putting Iraqis in charge of Iraqi security could be a good thing.

We can’t bear the White Man’s Burden indefinitely for these poor, little, brown-skinned people who can’t be trusted to police themselves.

They can be trusted to police themselves, the difficulty comes when you ask them to police each other. The Sunni have no reason to trust an overwhelmingly sectarian police force. And our committment to democracy assures that the Shia must have the upper hand in any “federal”, unified Iraq. Now, if they have quietly taken this “unified, federal” concept and drowned it in the river, their approach makes sense.

If they are hoping for an assured stalemate and a balance of power, they will have to arm the Sunni to the teeth, as well as stand ready to guarantee their safety. In a partitioned Iraq, this may be possible. As well, it assures GeeDubya of an invite to stay as long as his black little heart desires, I suspect the Sunni will be perfectly willing to permit us to spend our blood and treasure on their behalf, and it will meet with the approval of the Sunni majority of Islam.

This isn’t exactly on topic, but the thing that pisses me off most is that Al Anbar province is always cited by the administration and its minions. Whenever the success, or lack of it, is brought up, Al Anbar is the first words out of their mouths. Folks, the surge isn’t in Al Anbar provice and unless I’m badly mistaken the local tribal chiefs kicked Al Qaeda out of Al Anbar before the surge started. Or at least they had begun to do that.

The added troops were put into Baghdad where results are mixed to say the least. In addition, the residents of that city have pretty well segregated themselves into homogenous neighborhoods. We have also built walls to separate those neighborhoods. The 25000 extra troops might not really be all that big a factor.

And whether or not the violence in Baghdad is down, the Shia dominated government appears to have no intention to share power and the whole purpose of the surge goes forlorn and neglected.

I don’t really give a shit what Petraeus says. There appears to be no progress toward what GW claims is the end goal. That is, a stable unified Iraq that will be an example to the Mid East and an ally against terrorism. There isn’t even a hint of any progress toward a stable Iraq, let along all those other pie-in-the-sky statements.

Not any more. At the beginning, there might have been a less-dirty way to do it if we had to do it at all (which we didn’t). From Armed Madhouse, by Greg Palast:

“Plan A:”

In February 2001, a meeting organized by Colin Powell’s State Department was held in Walnut Creek, California, in the home of Falah Aljibury, an Iraqi-born consultant on Iraq’s oil industry. The “Three-Day Plan” they came up with was “an invasion disguised as a coup,” “kind of a Marine-supported Bay of Pigs.” Saddam was to be replaced by some Ba’athist general cashiered by him, possibly the exiled General Nizar Khazraji – “the secret group was already contacting Saddam’s generals to switch allegiance. Then, according to their playbook, there would be snap elections, say within 90 days, to put a democratic halo on our chosen generalissimo.”

That would have been rather dirty and cynical, but it probably would have worked. Iraq would have remained as stable as under Hussein, it would have become friendlier to the U.S. and less dangerous to its neighbors, and the sanctions could have been lifted, boosting the economy. And Iraq’s oil industry would have ticked along, pumping and exporting oil, without disruption.

“Plan B:”

But in November 2001, following the U.S. victory in Afghanistan, the Pentagon, dominated by neoconservative PNAC members Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Elliot Abrams, had other and very different ideas:

Plan “B” was followed (except for the oil privatization, which U.S. oil companies refused to allow, but that’s another story), and we know how that worked out. It might have worked out better if we had committed 400,000 troops – the minimum number the generals advised Bush would be necessary to control the country effectively – instead of a mere 140,000; and if we could somehow have gotten that many troops in the field (we would have had to pull them out of practically everywhere else they’re stationed, starting with South Korea). But it’s too late now.

At this point, the least dirty thing we can do is pull out our troops and let the Iraqis settle their differences their own bloody way.

Read Cobra II, BrainGlutton. You’ll know why we went in with so few. It’s sickening.

That’s a Democrat for you, screw what the guy who is actually an expert on this stuff says. If what he’s saying doesn’t fit with your ideological viewpoint on the decision to invade Iraq, then you’ll find pretty all the excuses you want to ignore what him and other military leaders have said.

The switch to Petraeus as the leader of this situation, and the later surge must be looked at as a theater-wide shift, because that is what it was. Petraeus took over and started implemented procedural and policy changes across the board that’s why we’re talking so much about Al Anbar province. It’s a province where Petraeus has said we’ve failed repeatedly in the past and what he and other leaders are saying is they learned from their failures and changed strategy.

I think this quote by Bertrand Russell is rather appropriate.

As I’m sure you are aware, Martin, there is a strong case to be made that the change in Anbar province has little, if anything, to do with Gen Petreaus or the surge. For one of many,

This from a consistent, knee-jerk supporter of whatever the latest bullshit from the administration lackeys, and GW himself is.

It is undeniable that there has been zero progress toward a national government in Iraq that is acceptable to the Iraqis as a whole. Just how long are you willing to carry on this farce?

I always wondered why those who had been roped into a Ponzi scheme kept saying “If he had just had a little more time he could have worked it out.” I’m seeing the same thing from you guys and I still wonder at it.

It doesn’t make a bit of difference how expert Petraeus is as long as GW is in charge. Petraeus’ predecessors were also regarded as highly competent military officers.

There was a story on NBC news just today about a neghborhood in Baghdad where things are returning to a not bad condition. However, it turns out that the neighborhood is all Sunni and surrounded by a wall to protect it from its neighbors, the wall being policed by US troops. One resident says he never leaves the area for fear of being killed in the neighboring Shia neighborhood.

That’s progress for you.

Remember Tommy Franks? Won the war in weeks and then bailed. He turns out to have been the smart one.

It certainly describes W’s and the neocons’ thinking on Iraq from day one.

Does Petraeus say that the Iraqis are making political headway?

Iirc, Petraeus has been using these techniques from the gitgo.

Speaking of political parties systematically ignoring experts when it comes to matters of war, have you read Fiasco?

Why is cooperating with local militias bad again? There’s a whole bunch of times where doing just that has been the “right” thing to do, depending on who the militias are.

We Americans were once defended by a bunch of militias only vaguely associated with a national military chain of command. If the Iraqi militias that Patraeus is cooperating with actually legitimately represent the citizens of Iraq, what’s the problem with cooperating with them?

The problem is that there is no “Iraq,” not any more, only the factions; and that the various militias are not so much representing the citizens as preying on them. Reread Hayden’s article.

Well, let another democrat take a stab.

I am convinced that the definition of “Victory” (with a capital V) that Bush has for Iraq cannot be reasonably done in the timeframe he has set out. To achieve a “Bush Victory”, we’d need to be in Iraq for at least another decade. With the current political climate with the war, us setting up camp there for that length of time is not going to happen. Iraq is a failure. We failed in Iraq because our standard for Victory was unreasonably high and, in some cases, exercises in make-believe and wishful thinking.

As a hard-leaning, nearly communist Democrat, I am thrilled that Petraeus has made significant strides in quelling some of the violence in Iraq. The problem isn’t that I want to ignore what his achievements, it is just that there is no military solution in Iraq. I agree with the Republicans that the political progress cannot occur without a safe Iraq, but sheesh, how are we supposed to do that with the steady drip-drop of American deaths?

At what point will it be enough? 5000 American lives? 10,000? 100,000? I know that’s a question Cindy Sheehan would ask, but I believe it’s a question that begs to be answered - when will it be enough? How much should we sacrifice for some war-torn, sand-ridden shithole in the Middle East? It bothers me because I think that all of those federal dollars we pour into Iraq could be used to help Americans. We could build more schools, playgrounds; build new highways and improve down-trodden areas in the U.S; We could invest more into scientific and biomedical research; we could even use that money to ensure that every American could go to college for free or at a reduced cost.

The Iraq War is just a colossal waste of resources.

Unlike other democrats, I can’t blame the democratic Congress for allowing this to continue until they have a 60-40 majority to override a veto.

  • Honesty

Hayden isn’t necessarily a better source than Patraeus, I think. For most of us, it seems to be a weaker one.

Agreed. All I saw was a lefty op-ed, spinning faster than my washing machine on spin cycle.